Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States and in West Virginia. To address this enormous toll, the American Lung Association in West Virginia calls for the following actions to be taken by our elected officials:
- Restoration of West Virginia state funding for tobacco prevention and cessation;
- Protect clean indoor air regulations as they currently exist throughout the state; and
- Increase tobacco excise tax to be in line with the national average.
During the 2017 Legislative Session, three different attempts to preempt clean indoor air regulations in the state were fought off. Luckily, none of the bills made it past the first committee.
A bill introduced by Senator Stollings, to raise the minimum tobacco sales age to 21, failed in the Senate Health committee.
Other bills that failed, were an attempt to pass a bill that would not allow drivers to smoke in a motor vehicle if they had a passenger under the age of 16 with them; and legislation that would have allowed employers, such as health care providers, to not hire smokers. Neither of these bills made it out of the Senate Health Committee, their committee of origin.
Most alarmingly, in order to cut West Virginia spending by more than $100 million for the 2017-18 budget, legislators completely defunded the state Division of Tobacco Prevention. This move effectively eliminated all West Virginia state tobacco cessation and prevention efforts – even though the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for years has cited the state for spending only a fraction of the amount it needs to spend to effectively combat tobacco-related illnesses. This is particularly disappointing given West Virginia has one of the highest smoking rates in the country, which costs the state over $1 billion in healthcare costs and lost productivity each year.
In 2018, new leadership and direction for the Coalition for Tobacco Free West Virginia will be needed – with an emphasis on information sharing, collaboration throughout the state and local support. A strong state coalition will be necessary to help sustain/reinstate tobacco control funding and programs. This can be done by making the coalition more representative of the community, which can hopefully help develop more public support for the services provided by the state Division of Tobacco Prevention. The coalition will also need to expose the tobacco industry's deceptive, predatory, and deadly practices by developing more effective methods to counter their strategies.